By William N. Grigg
Robert Paudert refers to May 20, 2010 – the day his son Brandon was killed — as the “worst day of my life, ever.” Given that losing a child is the worst thing that can happen to a parent, Paudert isn’t exaggerating.
Brandon Paudert was an officer in the West Memphis, Arkansas Police Department. At the time Brandon was killed, Robert was the town’s police chief; Brandon’s partner, Officer Bill Evans, was his cousin.
Until about 11:00 a.m. on that fatal day, Officers Paudert and Evans, who were assigned to the narcotics interdiction team, had maintained surveillance on what they considered to be a “suspicious” rental truck. It turned out that the vehicle wasn’t being used to ferry narcotics; it was filled with household possessions belonging to a pleasant grandmother who was probably puzzled by the unwanted attention she had received from the local police.
Chief Paudert, who had been called to the scene, chided his son and his nephew and told them to “get off their butts and back on the interstate,” where they had a better chance of finding a vehicle carrying contraband – or perhaps a sizeable amount of cash that could be seized and “forfeited.” Crittenden County, where West Memphis is located, has become notorious for this officially sanctioned variety of highway robbery.
A few minutes after hitting the highway, Evans spied a white minivan with unusual license plates and conducted a traffic stop. He called Brandon to back him up as he went to interrogate the driver, 45-year-old Jerry Kane. Within a few minutes a scuffle ensued, and Kane shoved the officer into a ditch.
Jerry Kane was not a drug smuggler. As an adherent of a loosely organized movement referred to as “sovereign citizens,” he insisted on exercising his freedom to travel without obtaining government licenses, permits, and similar bureaucratic impedimenta. A former long-haul trucker, Kane traveled the country in a minivan organizing seminars in which he taught dubious methods of avoiding foreclosure.
Shortly before the fatal encounter in West Memphis, Kane had been arrested – and fined $1,500 – for driving without a license in New Mexico. His money was dissipating even as trouble with law enforcement continued to accumulate.
When the traffic stop degenerated into a shoving match, Kane’s 16-year-old son, Joseph, emerged from the minivan armed with an AK-47. Evans reached for his sidearm, but before he could draw he was shot several times. Taking cover behind his vehicle, Brandon got off several shots before he, too, was fatally wounded. Roughly two hours later, the Kanes were killed in a shootout with police that took place in a Walmart parking lot.
The funeral for Brandon Paudert and Bill Evans was attended by hundreds of police officers from several states. “I hope that no parent has to suffer through what we’ve been through,” Chief Paudert commented a few weeks after that sorrowful observance.
There is nothing worse than the death of a child, and every parent who has experienced such an unfathomable loss is entitled to sympathy. It’s worth pointing out that there is no record of Chief Paudert extending condolences to Debra Farrow, the mother of 12-year-old DeAunta Farrow, who was murdered by one of the officers in his employ.